Thursday, July 31, 2014

Florence Lake To McClure Meadow And Back As An Overnight

Dale Matson

GPS Route Downloaded To Terrain Navigator Pro
It Is 36 Miles Round Trip

Getting to Florence Lake is half the battle. It is three hours Northeast of Fresno over Kaiser Pass. Once over the pass, the next 14 miles takes one hour on a single lane road with patches on patches. The view along the road is great but the driver needs to pay attention to road. There is a fork in the ‘road’ with seven miles remaining that goes left to Edison Lake and right to Florence Lake. Some folks traveling the PCT/JMT stop at Edison Lake for resupply since it is closer to the trail and offers showers and an eatery. Florence Lake is about seven miles from where the trail out of Florence Lake intersects with the JMT as it descends from Selden Pass. There is a cutoff trail to the Muir Trail Ranch where folks send 5 gallon buckets of food etc. Both lakes are reservoirs developed by Southern California Edison for producing electricity. Ironically, both lake resorts generate their own electricity and there is no regular telephone coverage.

Florence Lake Store From Boat Dock

Even though we are in our 3rd year of drought, Florence Lake remains relatively high, fed by the San Joaquin River. The water taxi is 25 dollars round trip and well worth the money to avoid the additional four miles of additional hiking to the trailhead at the south end of the lake. The first run is at 8:30am. It is not uncommon to see a Mercedes “Unimog” on the far end of the lake used to convey supplies to Muir Camp, a private resort. Once you climb out of the lake beginning on the ‘yellow brick road’ the trail passes by open meadows and dense woods with not much to see other than Pyramidal Mt. Shinn. At nearly 11,000’, it dominates the landscape. The Unimog road and foot trail repeatedly cross each other but the foot trail is 2 miles shorter. There is also ‘The Tombstone’ a pillar about 10,600’ to the north of the trail. At about 8 miles out you can see the John Muir Cabin built by the U.S. Forest Service about 50’ south of the trail.

The Tombstone

At about 9 miles you reach a bridge over Piute Creek once across the bridge, you enter into Kings Canyon National Park with expansive views. The JMT follows the San Joaquin River upstream. The river has cut a huge narrow gorge out of the rock as it rushes loudly beside the trail. Eventually, the trail crosses the San Joaquin on a panel bridge and heads to a junction with the trail to Goddard Canyon. At this point the average traveler should figure on camping for the night before the epic climb along the cliff face heading toward Evolution Creek. I have done this trip with average backpackers in four days and three nights on two separate occasions. Because I was alone this time, my pace was a skosh quicker. If you think my trip was fast, imagine someone like Leor Pantilat who could take the first ferry out and return from McClure Meadow to Florence Lake before the last ferry of the same day.

San Joaquin River

Evolution Creek

Evolution Creek Crossing

The Hermit On Right

The Evolution Creek crossing can be simple or simply dangerous when the creek is high and fast. One year my younger son Zack was almost swept downstream. There is a safer crossing upstream under those circumstances. It is about three miles from the creek crossing to McClure Meadow. There is not much to see along the way through the woods. When you arrive at the Meadow, there is a world-class sight. I had to take the final shot in the morning because of smoke from various forest fires. A Video with more photographs is available Here:


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Are The National Parks Changing Course?

Dale Matson

Boundary Between Kings Canyon And Sequoia Parks

[Angel Moreno in the Thursday (July 24, 2014) Fresno Bee.]
“Officials at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have picked their choice for the parks' future over the next 25 to 30 years, but the public can still ask questions and submit comments on the draft Wilderness Stewardship Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. On Monday, park officials will hold an open house and public meeting to discuss the draft at the Visalia Marriott Hotel. The meeting is from 6 to 9 p.m., with the formal public discussion starting at 7 p.m. A webinar is set for Aug. 14.”
The one goal: "to preserve wilderness character, provide opportunities for and encourage public use and enjoyment of the wilderness, and improve conditions in areas where there may be unacceptable levels of impacts on wilderness character.’” [My Italics]

"It's a tough balancing act for Gregg Fauth, wilderness coordinator at Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The parks have a combined area of 865,964 acres, or 1,353 square miles, 97% of which is designated and managed as wilderness."

I also offer the following comment from William Tweed (retired chief park naturalist) in his book Uncertain Path: A Search For The Future Of The National Parks (2010). “After I left the agency, I set out to search for a new future for the national parks. I knew that on such a quest I would also have to consider the concept of designated wilderness, a mid twentieth century offshoot of the national parks idea.” (Page 4).

While park naturalists believe that global warming is changing the park ecosystems, they also see human use as a threat and are making changes in the parks to bring them more in line with the wilderness idea and less in line with the national park idea. Are national parks set aside for humans or have they become nature preserves?  SeKi already has a second layer of protection with 97% of the land also designated "Wilderness" (Act of 1964). Thus it is a national park and a wilderness area. The Merced River in Yosemite is now under the Wild Rivers Act of 2004 leaving Yosemite with three layers of protection. Death Valley National Park banned the annual Badwater Ultramarathon event this year. There is a pattern of less not more access. 

There are various issues in every park but I have to ask this question of the SeKi administrators. "Is the density of the hikers and backpackers in the park really a problem?" There are less visitors to an area larger than Yosemite. Unlike Yosemite with most of the 4 million visitors seeing it by car, most of SeKi is only accessible by trail.  I have spent considerable time in SeKi over the years as a hiker, backpacker and with the Fresno County Search and Rescue. I have also written a book on backpacking in Kings Canyon. In my experiences, I did not find trails to have anywhere near the density as the trail to Half Dome, which is already a trail that requires permits even for day hikers. This is however true of the Mt. Whitney trail which also requires permits for day hikers. Most of this trail is not actually in Sequoia Park.

Obviously, I would prefer for SeKi to keep things as they are according to the previous plan. The park does not really define what it means by providing opportunities and encouraging public use. Does this amount to more slide shows; less asphalt parking and even less trail permits issued? Does this mean more ‘front country’ activities? What does unacceptable levels of impacts on wilderness character mean? To me, it means simply this, less access.

Here is my proposal that may address both the concerns about human impact in the backcountry and providing access. There are a limited number of main trails in Kings Canyon like the Bubb’s Creek, Woods Creek, John Muir Trails. However, there are “use” trails (60 Lakes Basin), unmaintained trails, (Taboose Pass and Sawmill Pass) and abandoned trails (JMT into Lake Basin and Center Basin). Why not spend the money to reestablish and maintain these trails. It would provide incentives to backpackers who are timid or lack navigational skills to access some of these less visited areas. This would also reduce the amount of backpackers/hikers per trail mile. Those who backpack in SeKi not only benefit from the experience, they are the strongest and most vocal advocates for the parks. I would not mind one bit even being charged a trail maintenance fee IF those were dedicated funds only used for trail construction and maintenance.
Note:  Sorry I can't make the meeting. I will be backpacking on that date.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adding Cycling to Running


Dale Matson

Traditionally my exercise drug of choice has been running. I learned the hard way about 15 years ago that, only running, as exercise is not prudent. Someone once said, “Runners are the fittest group of injured people I know.” I actually went two years with a tendon injury so painful that I could barely walk, let alone run. I had some relief in the winter cross country skiing.

As an ultrarunner, I had done miles upon miles of downhill running in training and developed Popliteal Syndrome. This kind of tendonitis is both very painful and under diagnosed. During this two-year period, I was not fun to be around and gained considerable weight.

Out of desperation, I began riding my mountain bike on the trails of the local park. I also bought a road bike and began riding with the local cycling club. For some, cycling is their drug of choice and I have learned over the years that most of my injuries were not really “overuse injuries”. They are muscle imbalance injuries. My hamstrings were so strong from long slow running that my legs would not even straighten out. By biking, I was able to rehabilitate and strengthen my quadriceps muscles. Take a look at professional cyclists and you can see what cycling does for the calves and quads. Their arms are another story however.

As I cycled, my aerobic capacity began returning and my weight began lowering. Other than crashes, cycling is a low impact exercise. Much to my amazement, my leg also began to straighten out and the pain behind my knee diminished. In short, I have cycling to thank for being able to return to running. I have cycling to thank when combined with running for finishing the Western States 100 mile endurance run. If I had only trained by running, I would have been too injured to make the starting line. A month later, I did the Climb To Kaiser here, which is considered one of the toughest one-day bike rides (it used to be done in July). The running also helped my biking. Biking, swimming and running complement one another.

Later, I added swimming to the running and biking and that led to triathlon competition but that is another story. I rarely compete in any of the sports today but continue to run, bike and swim regularly. I also train with weights to maintain my upper body. Bicep curls and triceps exercise transfers nicely to using ski and trekking poles.

Some of my older friends no longer exercise because they were solely runners and had chronic injuries. So for this category, there are runners and retired runners with no transition to other aerobic exercises.
I have triathlete friends in their 80’s who still compete in the sprint triathlons. Chuck Freuler at age 85 is the age group world champion in sprint triathlon. Another has had both a stroke and a heart attack. His quick recovery from both was helped by the fact that he was in such good condition as a multisport athlete.

My continuing goal is to have a quality of life that allows me to participate in athletics, remain relatively healthy and be in the mountains with the search and rescue team and as a hiker and backpacker.   

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day Hike To Mt. Givens From White Bark Vista

Dale Matson

GPS Route

The Drive from Fresno to the trailhead at the beginning of the Dusy Ershim trail near White Bark is about 1:45. You take highway 168 to Kaiser Pass road. At Kaiser Pass turn right onto the dirt road for one mile. The dirt road leads to the White Bark vista. Four-wheel drive is not necessary but recommended. A vehicle with a high ground clearance is necessary for this road. You can park at the vista and walk to the beginning of the Dusy Ershim trail or take your chances and drive to where the trail begins.

Would You Drive This Trail?
View To The East From The Trail
Edison Lake
Deer Lake Telephoto

My GPS had the round trip hike at about 6.5 miles with about 1,500’ of total altitude gain. The hike was about 4.5 hours round trip at a casual pace including one half hour on top. There is a “scope” that rotates 360 degrees on top near the radio tower and helps locate different peaks. Mt. Givens is about 10,645’ in altitude and provides a 360-degree view of the surroundings. You can see Mt. Goddard in Kings Canyon Park.

"Use Trail" Cutting Off Dusy Ershim
Kaiser Peak
Mt. Goddard In Kings Canyon Telephoto

Graveyard Peak Devil's Bathtub In Bowl Not Visible
Huntington Lake Telephoto From Mt. Givens
Dogtooth Peak

The hike follows the Dusy Ershim trail and you can follow it SW until you begin the climb WNW to Mt. Givens. There is a use trail that forks off from the Dusy Ershim Trail as it exits the woods and is more direct with less up and down until it rejoins the Dusy Ershim Trail. You can see it as a straighter, more direct line on my return leg on the GPS route I downloaded following our hike. There is really no trail to follow once you leave the Dusy Ershim trail as you climb toward the summit of Mt. Givens. You will see some random cairns as you climb. The Dusy Ershim trail is 31 bone jarring miles and continues all the way to Courtright Reservoir.

There is no water for resupply along the route. Just remember when you come down, you will eventually hit the Dusy Ershim trail sooner or later. There is some boulder hopping toward the top and we left our trekking poles for the last 50 feet of climb so we could use our hands.After walking this section of Dusy Ershim, I have concluded that driving it would be more difficult than walking it. Lot’s of luck Jeepers!
There is a Youtube video on the hike with more photographs here:

There is a newer version of this posting here:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bear Spray In The National Parks: Good And Bad Policies

Dale Matson

Most individuals don't realize that bear spray is recommended in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and not allowed in Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. Bear spray is required in Banff National Park in Canada and one can be fined $25,000 for not carrying bear spray. This is primarily because predatory attacks are more likely with the Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone, Glacier Parks and Banff Parks but they have black bears also.

The problem with the Yosemite and SeKi policy is that it assumes you won't be attacked and that if you are attacked that you have a sufficient means of protecting yourself. The rationale used by the officials at Yosemite and SeKi Parks is that no one has ever been killed by a black bear in those parks. I am 69 years old and have never been in an auto accident. I still wear my seatbelt.

Here is the advice from the SeKi website.
If a bluff charge becomes a real charge and a bear makes bodily contact, first tuck into a ball face down with your hands clasped over your neck. If the bear does not immediately back off and continues in its attack, fight back hard using your fists, rocks, or whatever you have available. A prolonged attack after a bluff charge indicates that the bear views you as prey and you should defend yourself appropriately. Keep in mind that predatory attacks by black bears are very rare and have never occurred in these parks, but you should always be prepared.
Does this sound like a good policy for dealing with a predatory or otherwise black bear?

Park officials are careful to use the word “predatory” since this would limit the actual accounting of total bear attacks. There was a man attacked near the Mist Falls by a bear that would not be considered “predatory”.

Tom Smith, National Park Service research biologist had this to say in Backpacker Magazine, “What do I do if I don’t have bear spray with me?” a woman once asked me. I said, “Don't not have that stuff!” It’s irresponsible not to protect yourself, but also not to give [the bears] an alternative option. She kept going, saying, “But please answer my question.” I said, “Let me phrase it this way: You are telling me that you're riding in a truck, and refuse to wear a seatbelt. Then, you're asking me: What’s the best way to be ejected through the windshield?” That’s when I started realizing that the primary piece of information is this: Don’t go out there without a deterrent. That, and commit to making noise appropriately.”

Black bear attack statistics are available and sobering.

It is not a case of if but when. Sooner or later someone in Yosemite or SeKi will be killed by a black bear. The bear and people populations are increasing and bear encounters are more frequent. We are no match for a predator that can weigh up to 400 pounds. The park officials have not offered a sound reason for why bear spray is outlawed in the Parks here in California other than to say, “Bear spray is a weapon that has the tendency to be more of a safety and health risk for those carrying it than it is a useful tool in Yosemite.” Kirsten Randolph National Park Service Yosemite National Park.

Bear spray is allowed in other national parks such as the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where people have been killed by black bears. "Bear pepper spray may be carried by hikers within Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the strict purpose of protection against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife."

There is no policy forbidding or requiring the use of bear spray in the Sierra National Forest. I think it is time Yosemite and SeKi rethink their policy and allow individuals to carry bear spray. One legal alternative is a CCW permit. Frankly, I think Yosemite and SeKi officials would prefer someone carrying bear spray to someone carrying a concealed handgun. Ultimately you are responsible for your own safety in the wilderness. Adequate self-protection is good judgment.

Bears Are Not The Only Thing To Watch For
This Mountain Lion Was Captured On My Game Camera Last Week